I’ve been thinking about space and astrophysics.
About the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy. About how it is so unspeakably massive–massive enough to keep our galaxy of (at least) 150 billion (150 billion) stars orbiting it, massive enough that even light is pulled in by its gravity. Not metaphorical gravity. Real, physical, the-scientific-law-of-gravity type of gravity so strong that it draws light to itself.
There’s a point trying to think about that where my brain simply… stops. Hits a wall. Can’t compute.
And I’ve been thinking about the supermassive black holes holding other galaxies together. Humans don’t really know how many galaxies spin through this universe, but the current thought is about 125 billion. 125 billion galaxies. And that’s just speculation. The numbers change a lot because there’s literally so much to know that it’s impossible to actually know.
But let’s just say there are 125 billion galaxies give or take a few. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, isn’t very big compared to the others even though it has 150 billion stars. It would take 100,000 years to cross from one side of the Milky Way to the other. And that’s if you were traveling nonstop at the speed of light for all 100,000 years.
There’s a galaxy out there (dubbed Hercules A) that is 1.5 million light-years across. Hercules A must have an unthinkable black hole holding innumerable stars in its gravity.
We breeze over these numbers. Million. Billion. We toss them around. But we don’t truly have a concept for there being that many of anything. We can’t even actually comprehend Earth carrying 8 billion people on it; how can we even begin to fathom what it means that our universe is home to at least 125 billion galaxies?
And besides the truly staggering numbers that we use to try to describe the truly staggering size of our universe, there are innumerable mysteries in space.
Space. A vacuum where the molecules are so far apart that sound can’t carry. In our system, we can’t see the solar wind that moves through what looks like empty space. We think we know where cosmic rays come from; maybe we do. The temperature in space is a chilly −454.81 °F. Apparently there’s little to no friction in space? And invisible gravitational and electromagnetic forces as well as radiation are doing their thing (it’s at this point that I usually can’t remember what gravity is).
Scientists throw around theories about dark energy… and then there’s also dark matter–two different ideas about two different things, both of which are poorly understood (especially by me) and not to be confused with dark fluid and dark flow.
Dark energy is an unknown force of energy which is theorized to counteract gravity. On the other hand, dark matter is a type of matter that does not interact with light. Apparently we know dark matter exists because even though we can’t see the dark matter itself, we can observe how it gravitationally affects objects we can see.
The mysteries. There are so many mysteries. And for each mystery there are plenty of theories. We’re trying to name things we can’t even pin down, puzzling out and dreaming up definitions and possibility after possibility for mystery after mystery.
Yet we hardly even know Earth. We’ve been on little ol’ Earth a while, and we still don’t know what’s at the bottom of our own ocean. Can you imagine the mysteries we would find if we ever explored even a fraction of the other planets out there in the great black of space?
And besides the planets, thinking back to black holes… who knows what those are actually like. We certainly don’t.
Some think of space and shudder. It’s so inhospitable. There are so many unknowns. It’s just so big. Space–our physical universe–isn’t infinite, but it seems like it.
But thinking about space doesn’t make me afraid. It makes me feel small. Mount Everest and the oceans that seems so endless and formidable to my eyes are nothing next to even our own sun, much less the Hercules A galaxy. So much on Earth feels big compared to me. And yet Earth is decidedly tiny.
But it also makes me feel precious. Because Earth is decidedly tiny. But it was here on Earth that God let loose some of his most special creative endeavors. It was here on Earth that he made creatures in his own image. And it was here on Earth that infinite God took on physical flesh and proved his love for sinners in an act that transcends millions of light-years–it was here on Earth that God died and came back to life.
And thinking about space doesn’t make me feel afraid because God holds our entire universe in the span of his hand. I don’t feel afraid because all the unknowns of our universe are well-known–and designed by and delighted in–by God.
The unknowns reflect the infinitely deep wells of God’s creativity, and the simple unthinkable vastness shows forth God’s majesty and inscrutability and infinity and transcendence and beauty and glory and so many other things we don’t even have words for.
Space is big, and I am small. Space is cold and mysterious and dangerous, and I am perfectly safe in the hands of God, the same hands that mark off 125 billion galaxies like it’s nothing.
So I think I’ll keep reading the ultra-simplified versions of the theories and discoveries in astronomy and astrophysics. Because even though my mind feels like it’s melting when I read about these things and think about them, I am comforted and my wonder wakes back up.
What do you think about space and black holes ‘n stuff?
p.s. – this isn’t a very succinct post because my thoughts on all this are still pretty jumbled. Maybe they’ll unscramble when I’m not up to my neck in articles about this, but I guess there are worse ways to spend quarantine. Plus, posting something that has questionable flow, tired-brain writing, and zero links to sources kills a little of my perfectionism, so that’s good?
p.p.s. – the last month or so I’ve been thinking about space a lot, but then the other night I watched Interstellar for the second time and that really pushed me Over The Edge as far as getting stuck in a space-obsessed phase. I think I’ll be here a while. Any good book recommendations for astrophysics?